How do you connect with customers when your office is closed? More to the point, how can you retain customers and even elevate the customer experience when your most prominent presence is virtual? These are the questions businesses are asking themselves in the wake of COVID-19.
It is possible to truly connect with your customers, even if your interactions are largely virtual. You can keep customers and actually make the customer experience better through online chat and contact centers. Here’s how.
How the customer experience has changed in the age of COVID-19
The objectives behind the customer experience, or CX, haven’t changed. Companies still need to deliver a positive customer experience to retain customers. What has changed is the circumstances under which businesses are delivering these experiences.
Here are some of the issues stemming from COVID-19 that affect the customer experience:
- Record high unemployment levels
- Disrupted savings patterns (people are saving more and spending less)
- Disrupted distribution channels
- Employee uncertainty about working onsite
The biggest change to the customer experience is that at most companies, employees were the CX delivery system. They were the front line of the organization; they interacted with customers on a day-to-day basis, usually in-person. Now, interactions are virtual.
At the same time, customer behavior is also changing; there are customers who are impatient to return to the way things were, and there are also customers who are hesitant about doing things the way they used to be done in a new world. Every economic, health, and family issue has a political dimension, too, complicating the conversation further.
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What can companies do to deliver a great customer experience during COVID-19?
There are several steps firms can take to deliver an amazing customer experience during COVID-19:
- Put employees first
- Make customers’ lives easier
- Make it convenient to do business with you
- Be innovative
- Be realistic and responsible
Put employees first
While it might sound strange that a customer would care about what a company is doing for its employees, research shows that they do care quite a bit. In the spring of 2020, global communications strategy firm Edelman released a report on consumer trust in brands. The report revealed that nine out of ten consumers wanted companies to do everything they could to protect their employees. Furthermore, 71% said that if a company were to put profits before people during the pandemic, it would erode their trust in the firm forever.
Organizations can demonstrate their commitment to their employees’ health and wellbeing by enabling them to work remotely. Cloud contact center technology allows agents to deliver excellent customer experiences while staying safe.
Make customers’ lives easier
Customers can’t do business with their service providers the way they normally would. It’s frustrating for them not to be able to walk into a bank branch or their favorite restaurant. Firms can ease customers’ discomfort by making their lives easier.
What does that look like? It could mean allowing contact center agents to work remotely, while also deploying customer service software that enables live chat. An Accenture survey from March 2020 revealed that 43% of customers ranked channels such as live chat or chatbots above call support to solve their problems. By adding these capabilities to your contact center, it’s easier for customers to work with you.
Make it convenient to do business with you
The point about making customers’ lives easier dovetails with this next point: you also have to make it convenient to do business with you. Yet, this is not a new development; Annette Franz, founder and CEO of CX consultancy CX Journey Inc. pointed out in a July 2020 interview that “these are really not that different from the things that customers were already expecting (simple, effortless, seamless, convenient) prior to the pandemic; now brands are forced to make them happen in order to survive.”
What does “more convenient” mean for customers? They want the option to connect to your brand through live chat, chatbot, or through the contact center. Also, they have to be able to reach you on their schedule – if they work until 6 PM and your contact center closes at 5 PM, that’s not convenient.
In the spring of 2020, Accenture published a report about the impact of COVID-19 on human behavior. According to the report’s authors, one of the effects of the pandemic will be that many interactions will be virtual due to health and safety regulations, as well as the comfort level of consumers. They predict that companies that can adapt and use virtual tools and models will achieve short- and long-term competitive advantages.
The bar for innovation is growing higher. Many companies have chatbots or offer live chat, but not everyone offers a chatbot that will hand off a conversation to an agent if the interaction warrants it. Another suggestion Accenture’s report provided was to use virtual platforms for customers to connect with experts so that customers can get the help they need from wherever they are.
Be realistic and responsible
Delivering good customer experience in the age of COVID-19 means being realistic and responsible – realistic about understanding customer behavior, and responsible about protecting the health and safety of employees and customers. A McKinsey survey of US customer sentiment from late August 2020 showed that over a third of Americans believe coronavirus cases are still rising, and 68% of US consumers still aren’t engaging in “normal” out-of-the-house activities. Also, until there is a vaccine, brands need to behave responsibly, encouraging customers to continue physically distancing and protecting their employees while allowing them to work at home.
It’s realistic and responsible to use customer service software that enables live chat and chatbots to answer questions. It’s realistic and responsible to invest in cloud contact center technology that allows agents to work remotely, so they can stay safe while meeting customers’ needs.
COVID-19 didn’t change the fundamentals of customer experience, although it did change how brands deliver CX. Investing in customer service software that enables meaningful virtual experiences engages customers, and helps you keep them. To learn more, view a free demo.
Originally published Sep 14, 2020, updated Dec 30, 2022